Living with Luke (9): Luke 3:21-22

 is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.

Luke 3:21-22:  Jesus’ Baptism
21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
In the midst of the Jews gathered to John at the Jordan River stands unrecognized Jesus, their Messiah.  He too is baptized, signaling his commitment to be among the people God leads out in his new, great, and final Exodus.  Jesus stands in the river, outside the land, with the new Israel God is calling together through John (the prophesied Elijah of Malachi).

And as he undergoes baptism he prays.  Only Luke mentions this among the gospels.  Prayer in Luke suggests relationship to God.  Jesus undergoes baptism in communication and communion with his Father.  And that turns out to be dynamite!  As Jesus prays, “heaven was opened,” just what the prophet had called for in Isaiah 64:1:  If only you would tear open the heavens and come down! Mountains would quake before you.”  The prophet was looking for Yahweh to act gain as he had at the Exodus.  And now God is!

It is not clear whether Luke saw this as a private experience of Jesus or a public experience for the whole crowd.  Matthew and Mark see it as the former.  In Luke, however, it makes more sense to see it as a public event.  The crowd as well as Jesus, as well as John, knows that God is now acting on those ancient prophecies.  And he is doing it through this one on whom the Spirit descends “in bodily form like a dove,” as the crowd can see.  The “dove” has many resonances in Second Temple Judaism and within the New Testament.  The most appropriate here is to see it as a symbol of power.  God empowers Jesus, the newly revealed Messiah with a visible sign of his investiture with the Holy Spirit.
As if to make this point quite clear, Luke records God’s own acclamation of son:  “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” Three Old Testament references form God’s affirmation of Jesus. 
-first is Ps.2:7:  “You are my son.”  This is God’s affirmation of the King as his representative.
–second is Gen.22:2 where Isaac is spoken of as Abraham’s dearly loved son on his way to be sacrificed on the mountain..
-third is Is.42:1: “But here is my servant, the one I uphold; my chosen, who brings me delight.”
Son, sacrifice, servant.  Each of these terms interprets the others and together they redefine the whole notion of Jesus’ Messiahship.  The royal (son), priestly (sacrifice), and prophetic (servant) images coalesce into a declaration that the long-expected Messiah would not be quite like anybody expected him to be.  Yet he is the one sent from God.  And Luke will narrate how this unlikely and unexpected figure will justify God’s faithfulness to his promises both to Israel and to the world.


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